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VanRoekel pushes 'smart' federal website reform

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A new report that aims to map the federal web universe reveals a sprawling collection of .gov websites, but Federal Chief Information Officer Steven VanRoekel says it presents a chance to find efficiencies. "This is an opportunity for us," said VanRoekel Dec. 16 while speaking at an event jointly hosted by AFFIRM and ACT-IAC in Washington, D.C. He said agencies have to "get smart" about consolidation, sharing platforms and computing resources.

Of the 1,489 domains agencies reported in the a State of the Federal Web report (.pdf) published Dec. 16, agencies told the Office of Management and Budget-led .gov reform task force that they plan to eliminate 378 domains and merge an additional 65 domains with an existing website. Most of the merging and shuttering was to occur in the third and fourth quarter of fiscal 2011, notes the report that surveyed agencies from Aug. 12-Oct. 22. (Fiscal 2012 started Oct. 1.)

Of the sites to be eliminated, 87 percent are domains that are not functioning, 30 percent simply redirect to another site and 3 percent are live websites. According to the report, 13 percent of the inactive/not functioning sites will be maintained. "It's possible those are domains that agencies will consider re-activating or moving content to a different domain over time," note report authors.

The report shows agencies' web governance lacking in other areas as well. Fifty percent of the agencies surveyed had two to nine different web content management systems for maintaining sites. The Health and Human Services Department noted 19 different WCMs and 32 different web service providers.

Reporting is also inconsistent, with nearly 80 percent of agencies saying they did not use the same performance metrics to evaluate websites across the agency. "The lack of centralized web governance, however, makes it extremely difficult to determine how many Web hosting providers are being used across the department," said an anonymous HHS source cited in the report.

For now, it appears OMB's website consolidation push is focused on the agency level. The U.K. government consolidated all its federal websites down to two domains, noted VanRoekel. "I don't know if that's right for everyone," he added.

The previous federal CIO, Vivek Kundra, once said that a single, second level government domain "is a great idea."  

"The natural motion when you come into a new job is to throw away the predecessor's work and start from scratch...that's not my style," said VanRoekel. "Some of it we'll recast and we'll kind of turn the dial on some of it."

VanRoekel said Kundra's 25-point plan to reform federal IT is still a primary focus for OMB. He said three of the 25 points are behind schedule and still remain undelivered: standing up contract vehicles for "commodity" services, working with Congress to create IT budget models that align with modular development and working with Congress to consolidate commodity IT spending under agency CIOs. With those lingering points in mind, as well as the need to fund "cloud first" initiatives with data center consolidation savings, VanRoekel said it's important that agencies are able to use their savings for reinvestment. Agency CIOs need flexibility, he said.

"Government works best when you're working at an [operational expenses] level...we can't have agencies asking for huge capital infusions every few years," said VanRoekel. 

For more:
- download the State of the Federal Web report (.pdf)

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